Former Australia Test batter Michael Hussey has counselled England to take "the moral decision" in regards to suspended Ben Stokes and leave him out of their Magellan Ashes plans because he believes Joe Root’s team are capable of retaining the urn even without the star allrounder.
However, Hussey believes Australia enters the upcoming Ashes campaign as favourites and everything would have to fall into place for the tourists if they were to succeed without their influential vice-captain.
Stokes’ involvement in the five-Test series, which begins in Brisbane next week, remains in the hands of the Avon and Somerset Police as they continue their investigations into a late-night brawl in which the 26-year-old was allegedly involved last September.
While Stokes was named in the England Ashes squad that was announced after the investigation was launched, he remains suspended until the police have revealed the results of their inquiry after the New Zealand-born allrounder was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm before being released without charge.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s independent Cricket Discipline Commission is conducting its own investigation but it is not expected to hand down a judgement until the police have indicated the course of action they will take.
As a result, Stokes and his England teammate Alex Hales (who was with the allrounder on the night the incident occurred) remain ineligible for selection, although there has been reports that the Test vice-captain might be a chance to join the touring party for the third Ashes Test that begins in Perth in mid-December.
Hussey claims that England faces duelling decisions if Stokes is deemed available for selection before the completion of the Ashes campaign in early January, and will need to choose between what best serves the needs of their cricket team and the broader ethical implications of Stokes’s alleged involvement in the late-night incident.
"It’s a difficult one," Hussey told the latest episode of The Unplayable Podcast.
"In my mind, if you’re in the England camp, you’re wrestling with two things.
"The moral decision is ... the footage looks pretty bad, he’s going to have a lot on his mind with the investigation, perhaps he’s better off just not coming at all.
"Give someone else an opportunity to become an Ashes hero, really make a name for himself, just leave him (Stokes) back home and don’t worry about it.
"On the other hand, he’s a quality player and England are probably looking at their team thinking 'we need a Ben Stokes'.
"If I was in there that’s what I’d be wrestling with; it’s a moral decision or do you go with what’s the best team on the park.
"I think if it was up to me, I’d probably take the moral decision and say 'stay at home, get yourself sorted out' and give someone else an opportunity.
"They can win without him.
"A lot is going to have to go right, I think, looking at some of those inexperienced players in the (England) top order."
If England is to retain the urn they took back from Australia in the 2015 Ashes campaign in the UK, Hussey believes the responsibility rests heavily on captain Joe Root and his veteran new-ball combination of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
But while claiming that England will enter the series as underdogs, much will also depend on the capacity of England’s "unheralded" players – the likes of untried Ashes batters Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan along with back-up allrounder Chris Woakes – to step up and have an impact.
He also warned that while former skipper Alastair Cook who – like a number of the Australia candidates leading into the series – has not enjoyed the best of form in recent innings, he is a proven performer in Australian conditions and looms as a potential threat.
Hussey said much will rest on Australia's ability to dismiss Cook cheaply at the Gabba which, in turn, will increase pressure on the 32-year-old who, dominated during England’s most-recent Ashes series win in Australia seven years ago when he piled on 766 runs at an average of 127.66 across five Tests.
"He (Cook) is a champion player, he’s done it before and if he gets the first score and his confidence up early in the series then he will be hard to stop," Hussey said before outlining how the Australia bowlers might look to quell his influence.
"You have to keep it simple, don’t bowl short and wide, don’t bowl on the pads – well, you shouldn’t really do that to anyone.
"You’ve got to it simple and keep homing in on a good line and length.
"He’s very, very disciplined, so he’s more likely to be patient and wait for you to stray on your line and length a little bit, and that’s when he’ll pick you off.
"A lot the English players like to play the ball really late, they don’t come forward a long way, they like to play from the crease with soft hands. So what the Australians like to do is pitch the ball up, get the English guys to drive down the ground.
"It’s the same with Cook, if you can get him playing drives towards mid-off then you feel like you’re in the game. If there’s any movement at all, you can bring the slips into play and he’s probably not as strong down the ground as he is on the pull shot, the cut shot and off his pads as well.
"Australia just have to be patient and be disciplined, and if you’re going to err then err on the fuller side of things."
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21